"Tea For the Tillerman" at 45 rpm From Analogue Productions

Analogue Productions has just released Tea For the Tillerman on a double 45rpm 200g, numbered, limited to 3500 copies edition, mastered by George Marino. What? Didn't he pass away a few years ago? Yes. The double 45s were cut when the tape was available "just in case". And it's "in case" time. Especially since AP's license on the title is about to expire, so it's also "get it while you can" time, "in case" you really like this record.

Yes, it does sound better at 45rpm: more open, dynamic and not slightly pinched on the inner groove area since it's stretched out to two LPs and the sides don't have to go as far towards the center of the record. If you already have the 33 do you need the 45 set? Only if you are absolutely fanatically dedicated to this record. Then you won't regret the purchase. It will become a collectible so you really can't go wrong.

What's below was originally published on musicangle.com back in 2011, when the QRP pressing plant was about to launch, with this title at 33 1/3 as the pressing plant's first project (a few outdated references have been removed here).

Poor misunderstood Steven Demetre Georgiou/Cat Stevens/Yusef Islam. Like Bob Marley or Barack Obama, he’s a “hybrid” and subject to misinterpretation and fear-mongering.Born of a Greek-Cypriot dad and a Swedish mom, he was half Greek Orthodox and half Baptist and now he’s a devout Muslim.

In between, he’s had a remarkable and tumultuous career as a pop star. He’s had backup artists on his albums ranging from Peter Gabriel to Biff Rose. He’s cited influences as wide-ranging as the Gershwins, Leonard Bernstein and Muddy Waters.

He dated Carly Simon (“Anticipation” was about him, not the difficulties involved in coaxing Heinz Ketchup from the bottle) and his songs were featured in the unforgettable cult film “Harold and Maude” starring the great Ruth Gordon and Bud Cort.

He almost died twice: first, before his career took off, from a bout with Tuberculosis in the UK and later in 1976 he almost drowned in the ocean off of Malibu. When he sings “But I might die tonight,” he sings from experience!

Without going into all of the details, let’s just agree that his first great album was Mona Bone Jackon issued originally on Island Records in the UK and A&M in America.

His follow up, Tea For the Tillerman also originally on Island and A&M is considered by most to be his greatest record as well as a Top 10 Billboard hit. Like all true classics, the cover art (drawn by the then Mr. Stevens) is a perfect fit for the music.

Acoustic Sounds/Analogue Productions’ Chad Kassem chose the album as the first release pressed at his new Salina, Kansas state of the art Quality Record Pressings pressing facility. Some on-line grumbling asked “why this?”

The answer is simple: it remains a great, enduring piece of folk/rock, brilliantly performed and recorded. Original pink label Island pressings are still much sought after for both sound and the superior gatefold presentation.

There have been a few reissues including a Japanese JVC pressed Mobile Fidelity issue and a flat profile UHQR edition. Though the master tape had been lost since it was last used for a 1999 CD reissue—part of a Cat Stevens reissue series overseen by the original producer, Paul Samwell-Smith and mastered by Ted Jensen at Sterling Sound—Kassem was determined to find it and use it for his first vinyl release.

Thanks to a lot of leg and detective work, the pristine original analog master tape was found and used by George Marino, who cut lacquers at Sterling Sound, the mastering house where it was originally cut by Sterling Sound founder Lee Hulko, for both the U.S. and UK first editions. Hulko’s original mastering notes were on file at Sterling and used as a reference by Marino.

The original was cut using a Telefunken M10 playback deck and a Neumann VMS 66 lathe and SX68 cutter head. Marino used an Ampex ATR-102 deck, Neumann VMS80 lathe and SX74 cutter head.

Despite starting with the same cut, the pink label edition sounds vastly superior in every way, evidently because of superior plating and pressing quality, even though indie A&M was among the more meticulous, sound conscious record labels at the time.

Kassem was also determined to reproduce as closely as possible the original gatefold packaging featuring a laminated outer jacket and an opaque, cloth-like inner one that was used only for the first pressing. Subsequent ones featured lamination inside and out.

What makes this music special and capable of enduring through the decades? For one thing, the songs have memorable melodies, even the ones built upon two chord vamps like the opener, “Where Do the Children Play,” a prescient, still relevant song about the environment, overdevelopment and whatever else you wish to read into it. The production and sound remain spectacular and the arrangements, combining strummed acoustic guitars, strings arranged by Del Newman, stand up bass and drums sets the perfect stage for Stevens’ simultaneously tender and gruff vocalizing.

The impeccably orchestrated arrangements include syncopated and dynamic flourishes played out on drums and strings that were and remain unusual for this musical genre.

Speaking of being misunderstood, when I was on the radio in the early 1970s, the hit “Wild World” was actually banned from the progressive rock station as being “a sexist break-up song” because of it’s supposed general condescension and lines like “I’ll always remember you like a child, girl.” Supposedly it’s about his breakup with girlfriend Patti D’Arbanville (sung about on Mona Bone Jakon).

But in retrospect, the only line that would lead one to believe it was a “break-up” song is the ambiguous opening line “Now that I’ve lost everything to you,” and indeed, perhaps it is a sexist break-up song, but it could just as easily be about a song to a daughter venturing out into the world for the first time. Considering the cover art, and another song on the album, “Father and Son,” that’s an equally probable interpretation—it certainly is a better one in 2011!

There’s melancholy in “Sad Lisa,” and majestic spiritual yearning (a hint of what was to come) in the “Miles From Nowhere.”

There’s not a second wasted on the first side and so many arrangement nooks and crannies to be discovered on this superbly dynamic, spacious and detailed re-mastering and pressing. Side two begins with the short “stop and smell the flowers” of “But I Might Die Tonight,” followed by “Longer Boats,” another song with both hippie and religious overtones and then comes the exquisite “Into White” that sounds inspired by the imagery of The Incredible String Band. “On the Road to Find Out” returns to the search for spiritual fulfillment but that’s followed by the settled satisfaction of the old man’s message on “Father and Son.”

The title song is a short, joyous gospel-influenced denouement to end an endlessly entertaining journey that holds up fully every play forty-one years later!

I remember buying my pink label Island copy at a small record store called The Depot, next to a train station in a small suburban Boston suburb, the name of which escapes me.

Upon taking the expensive record out of the jacket I was disappointed to see the same STERLING stamp and LH marking on the inner groove area as on my A&M copy. I consoled myself with the far superior packaging and that iconic pink Island label.

The first play on my Dual 1219 brought gasps because the sound was so far superior to the A&M. It was razor sharp in the best sense of the word, with black backgrounds and a dynamic thrust missing from the lackluster American pressing. Wow!

And wow again listening to this impeccably pressed on 200g vinyl reissue. The attack of the pick on the guitar strings is astonishingly clean and detailed. Depth is pronounced and because of both the blackness of the backdrop and the precision of both the state of the art plating and the technological breakthroughs achieved in the retro-fitted presses, the resolution of low level detail reveals a host of details that are either buried or glossed over on the other versions I’ve heard and own.

If you have the UHQR edition, you’ll find this similar in one way: there’s nothing “mellow” about the overall production and when the music gets loud (and Marino lets it get so) it can get a bit hard, but better that than to soften it and lose the clarity, focus and detail of this superb recording, especially in the quieter passages where the resolution of low level detail is astonishing.

If your system is bright, this may sound a bit bright, especially if you can’t get the bottom octaves, but as your rig gets better, this record will only keep sounding better and better.

As for Cat Stevens, he went on to record a string of equally fine records, similar in tone and formula to this one, including Teaser and the Firecat, that contained more hits (“Peace Train,” “Morning Has Broken,” and “Moon Shadow”) than did Tea for the Tillerman, and Catch Bull at Four, followed by a few more albums that were somewhat less distinguished.

Audio Fidelity issues a twenty song, two LP live set of his 1976 “Majikat” tour (AFZLP2 040) containing many of his most well-liked tunes. It was his farewell to the world as Cat Stevens and listening makes it clear that he was dispirited and going through the motions much of the time, though there are sparks of the old Cat there too.

A year later he converted to Islam, taking the name Yusef Islam and forsaking his pop music career, though he did do a benefit for UNICEF at Wembley Stadium in 1979 and has been involved in charitable work ever since.

Controversy followed as he was accused of aiding the terrorist group Hamas, which he denied and he is reputedly said to have been okay with the fatwa issued against Salman Rushdie, but again he denied that, saying he was “joking” and his comments had been improperly edited.

After 9/11 he condemned the attack and he sang an a cappella version of “Peace Train” during the “Concert For New York” pre-concert show that was an unforgettable moment (among dozens during the concert proper) for his fans.

He was ridiculously put on the terror watch list and in 2004 the commercial plane he was on bound for Washington D.C. was diverted to Maine where he was escorted off and sent back to the U.K. Since then he’s become more active in the secular music world but his piety seems to inhibit his expression, though his live performances have been generally well-received.

He made a bizarre and somewhat uncomfortable appearance at the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” where he performed “Peace Train” tentatively while Ozzie sang “Crazy Train” with the O’Jays finishing up with “Love Train.” You had to see it to believe it.

None of that takes away from his rich period between 1969 and the mid-seventies when he produced some of the most memorable and enduring folk-rock records of the rock era.

Tea For the Tillerman is a great choice for an inaugural album to launch a new pressing plant in my opinion, and if this release is any indication of what we can expect from Chad Kassem’s new venture, we’re in for some great vinyl!!!!!.

Music Direct Buy It Now

azmoon's picture

Wonder if Teaser will ever be done?

timorous's picture

I can understand how this album has remained popular for the last 44 years. Wonderful songs, and Cat Stevens is at the top of his game here. The many re-issues is a testament to its staying power.

Unfortunately, from a musicianly standpoint, the backup playing on these tracks is way too sloppy. Listen to Harvey Burns' drumming, particularly the 3rd verse of Where Do The Children Play. The backup on most of the tracks, while decent, is just too under-rehearsed..and it shows. It kind of spoiled my enjoyment right from the first time I heard this album.

Also, unless one has top-notch playback equipment, this recording is bound to sound a bit harsh in places. This may lead some people to wonder why the audiophile press would consider it so highly, sonically and otherwise.

azmoon's picture

….a break.

zzcorey's picture

"unless one has top-notch playback equipment" the very definition of an audiophile level recording, the better your system gets the better it will sound

Michael Fremer's picture
For one thing, Ovation guitars can slice your ears! The AP reissue is far truer to the tape than is the Pink Label Island UK original which sounds "magical" but wrong....
amarok89's picture

melted my ears back in the 70's, but sure maybe it was because my system was average back then. But Michael, to now read that you use magical and wrong at the same time regarding LH's mastering of Tillerman, the world has come to an end. As good as they have been since their first issue of Tillerman loyalty to QRP can still have its limits.

BillHart's picture

This is one of those audiophile records that I burned out on at a certain point, but after a long break from it, can now enjoy again. I had, among the many copies, a UHQR that I bought new when it was released. I then bought a copy from a homeless guy in the Village, some Euro-pink rim, older pressing. It wasn't as spectacular as the big old Mo-Fi, but it was very coherent, and 'of a piece.' Eventually, I broke down and bought a first press UK pink label, which has been my 'go to' for a while. I didn't buy the first Chad re-do; i gather there was some controversy over it at the time- it wasn't quite as 'warm' sounding or something. I never heard it, so can't say much on that, but I'll be interested to hear the 45. It is a great record, Island was a brilliant label at that time- some adventurous music, some great sounding records, and the ever charming Mr. Blackwell at the helm.

Michael Fremer's picture
Both the original "pink label" Island and the brown A&M were cut at the same time by Lee Hulko at STERLING. If you look in the lead-out groove area you'll see the STERLING stamp and "LH". Yet the Island sounds far superior because of better plating and pressing. However, while that version sounds warm and some would say "magical", in retrospect I think it sounds that way because of a screw up of some kind in the mastering...
amarok89's picture

Lee Hulco and the original Pink Label! After all these years? Not to disparage the late great Marino but he cut this one way too loud. I would love to try the 45 version of this but after the rough patches on the 3-31/3 that even AS said was not flawed there's no way. The gargling with the voices and the acoustic guitar sounding like its played underwater are not on the tape I don't care what the stature of the person is that says AP got this right. I am not angry in case this sounds like it, but just adamant that there was a serious issue with the 33 1/3 Tillerman that no one has addressed (except some long forgotten forums I read at the time). Sure, 70% of it sounds 5-star fantasic, but the mistakes in the cut (or pressing) are just too glaring to have been released. I have played it on three turntables in two different locations in my house and it gets the same funny looks from people when I play those passages. I would be glad to share a snippet in a digital file with anyone interested. Also, if I am wrong I would be happy to send my AP copy in a trade to anyone with a VG++ or higher pick label Island and I'll throw in some cash since the AP is apparently so great. Or maybe Chad would take $30 plus my trade in for a new 45 copy.

Michael Fremer's picture
Tell me where they are...what lyric etc.
amarok89's picture

is the end of On the Road to Find Out and let it play through Father and Son. The lead guitar has the flutter here and there throughout. The most obvious flutter in the voice is during the sustained note in the first syllable of the phrase "ordered to listen" in Father and Son. That's the worst part that I would think would be a show stopper in releasing it. There is also something wrong in the piano of Sad Lisa and some other parts of side one.

After my post I Googled and although I didn't find some of the forums I had read back in 2011 I did find a few posts about the same problem, at least one of which talked about getting a replacement that didn't help. Someone wondered if the bad ones were a batch that got out by mistake from that release delay AP had but it was only speculation. The sad thing is because its Tillerman I am beginning to get tempted to buy the 2 LP set anyway but the thought of spending $90 on two copies with the same problem is too much to think about. So far I have found no posts anywhere from someone who had a bad 33 but a good 45.

rakalm's picture

I have a pressing from 1989 I just bought a few years back. Sounds pretty good to my ear. Pressed and lacquered at PDO in Germany. I am not sure if they had access to the analog masters or not. Less than $20 3 years ago.

J. Carter's picture

I have a brown label and a gray label pressing. I'm pretty sure the brown label is the older A&M label. It has a darker sound to it where the gray label is brighter in sound. I was amazed at the big difference between the two.

Would either of those be somewhat close to this pressing? I am assuming the brighter one might be a bit closer no?

Michael Fremer's picture
The original A&M. It has "STERLING LH" in the lead out groove area. The gray label probably does not. I'd say it's brighter because it corrects a mistake that made the original sound "warm and romantic" and that the gray label version is probably more correct, and closer sounding to the AP reissue.
azmoon's picture

Mine will arrive Thursday from Acoustic Sounds

Joe Crowe's picture

Surprised it wasn't pressed on the highly touted "Clarity" vinyl.

concerto12's picture

of TFTT that I stumbled across years ago. It always sounded a bit on the soft side to me compared to my Island pink label pressing and another early A&M pressing. It would be interesting to do a comparison with this new release.

azmoon's picture

...number 227. Beautiful packaging! The cover is very glossy like a high quality picture. Vinyl looks great also. Won't be played until Saturday night during the weekly listening session at high volume!

azmoon's picture

Listened to this and was very impressed (VPI Classic3, McIntosh components). Perfect pressing - no noise at all, amazing clarity. This and Dream with Deam (also in 45) sound fantastic.

samman's picture

I have the Canadian Brown Label A&M pressing with "Sterling and LH" in the runout groove. It sounds great, and easily beat my UHQR. I don't know how it may compare to the U.S. Brown label or the Pink label UK version. What plating and pressing did Canada use???

Bob Levin's picture

RCA handled the pressing in most cases.
For whatever reason, Canadian records often sound far superior than their U.S. counterparts.
I did a comparison between the Capitol Canada Beatles "Twist And Shout" and the new 180 gm remasters, recently. There wasn't a huge difference.

fork's picture

Last year at a gathering of my audio club friends a guest compared his his $4 original issue of Tillerman to the host's $50 AP remastered reissue. None of those in attendance went out to get the AP copy after that.

Granted, many of these old and large production originals have variations in mastering and pressing plant (sound quality) and there are some very good AP issues. However, I've heard far too many of these 40-50 yr old reissues from AP that can't keep up with the inexpensive original, in fact, they're 200 grams of pure mediocrity.

Nothing wrong with AP producing these. They're running a business. I've just found many reasons to be careful when buying AP reissues.

amarok89's picture

but I must say that is the only bad pressing I have ever gotten from AP as far as I can remember. I have been pretty floored with the classical releases I have bought, and pop/rock stuff too, although maybe not going back quite that far.

samman's picture

For example, AP's 45 rpm pressings of the Doors albums are, excluding the first lp, outstanding. The first self-titled is bettered only by an original gold-label stereo pressing since the master tape was no longer available for AP. Stevie Ray Vaughn's 45 rpm box set is to die for.

john ryan horse's picture

Wow Sticky Fingers gets an "8" for music and this, this gets a 10. To quote The Birds (no "y") (who are better than The Who) "How Can It Be?"
I don't care how great the edition, pulp is pulp.

john ryan horse's picture

Wow Sticky Fingers gets an "8" for music and this, this gets a 10. To quote The Birds (no "y") (who are better than The Who) "How Can It Be?"
I don't care how great the edition, pulp is pulp.

boogieman's picture

Hi Mike,

Did you adjust the VTA when playing the 200 gram re-issue or did you use the same setup as when you played the original pressing?